Did you know that the average family caregiver is 49.2 years old? Couple that with the fact that 34% of caregivers are aged 65+ themselves, you can see that as many of us plan for our own senior years … we are also caring for a loved one in the depths of them. The resulting emotional stress often leads to ‘secondary trauma stress’ – also known as compassion burnout. It’s much like that age-old analogy where one has to put on their oxygen mask first before they can save the person next to them in an airplane crisis… but we all know that this task is far easier said than done.
In a recent article on Next Avenue, the self-proclaimed blackbelt people-pleaser, Tenzin Chogkyi, offers some advice on how to care for those in need without ignoring your own needs. She first advises us to understand that “compassion doesn’t mean doing whatever anybody wants you to do 24/7″; Chogkyi believes that “People can extend compassion to others without losing their own identity or an awareness of their own needs.” But…how?
She suggests establishing compassion boundaries that are not set in stone, but malleable guidelines for how we give that also enable us to create more sustainable relationships. The general practice is to “step up, speak out and set limits that allow us to give what we can” but in a manner that does not harm the caregiver nor their loved one.
Chogkyi offers workshops in San Francisco on this exact topic, along with communication psychologist Sunil Joseph. Joseph guides students through recognizing when people are really saying ‘yes’ when they want to say is ‘no’, and also acknowledging when we are overreacting because our own needs are not being met. Rather than ignoring one’s own needs, Joseph recommends conversations (as difficult as they may be) that express and define the need not being met – and then negotiating on what might move the relationship forward given that knowledge. Further examples and insights can be found in the complete article HERE on Next Avenue, titled “How to Avoid Compassion Burnout”.
While we all know that self-care feels like the buzzword of the century, the truth is that balance of care for oneself and those around you can create the highest form of health and happiness for everyone involved. If you find yourself caring for an aging loved one, please give yourself permission to assess if your needs are being met and what conversations need to be had to ensure you grant yourself the same compassion you so generously offer.
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All my best,
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